Art World / Community Media World

I read with interest on BBC News that David Hockney (at 72 years old is regarded as one of the UK’s greatest living artists) is using his iPhone to create artwork, and that this may now be a new departure for him.  It started when he drew a picture on his iPhone and then emailed to 12 people straight away.  That instant production and unmediated distribution has inspired him to bring mobile technology into his main work.  How he will choose to exhibit this will be interesting to see, as the unmediated personal nature may be compromised in a public domain, possibly lost alongside Walter Benjamin’s elusive ‘aura’ – the unique element that “shrinks” from a piece of art when it is technologically/mechanically reproduced.  When the artwork becomes a reproduction, removed from the “realm of tradition” of the act of making.

The Art World and Community Media have been related but strained bedfellows since the days of creation of both entities.  Caton-Rosser (2006) cites Egyptian hieroglyphics and Roman parchments as the forerunners of community media, and Goldbard (2006) cites the cave paintings at Lascaux southwestern France, painted 16,000 years ago, as the starting point of community arts (which she terms ‘cultural development’). (These cultural events in history are commonly viewed as being the starting points of the fine arts, literature and civilisation itself by Historians.) One of the strands of Community Media as we know is today grew out of community arts & media arts projects in the 1970s, (the other strands grew out of political activism, journalism, media democracy campaigns, media education, and radical pedagogy movements), and ever since, the creative ‘self expression’ role of community media has always been celebrated, but has also at times sat uneasy with some of the more politicised, critical and oppositional ‘alternative’ media’ elements of community media discourse, especially when ‘self expression’ becomes about the ‘self’, esoteric, and accused of elitism.

It is extremely timely therefore that the Community Media Association are soon to announce the appointment of a new post – an Arts Coordinator, whose role it will be to consult with the community media sector across England to draw up a strategy for the greater implementation of arts in community media, and also for community media to gain a greater role in the arts world.  The promotion of the setting up of financially secure structures to produce drama for community radio, in partnerships with local theatres, is one example that springs to mind – productions that can then be syndicated across different community radio stations.

Click here to download the pdf of the research report that led to the creation of the coordinator post, ‘The Arts and Community Radio’.  The research is an exploration of the role of arts in community radio stations across England.

A large number of arts and media graduates get their first freelance employment working in the community sector, without even realising it is a sector at all.  Greater understanding and awareness of community based work at education level, right through to the major galleries, would ensure that community media isn’t only viewed as a niche activity, but as the valuable part of the creative industries that we who work in it, already know it is.

And this is not to say that embracing the arts into community media activity is a negation of the politicised, critical, oppositional and radical motivations of the ‘alternative’ media foundations.  Just read the words of Augusto Boal if you are in any doubt about the role of the arts in social change.  He is talking about the role of theatre, but the same arguments can and have been made for all forms of art, from the Situationist’s Marxist agenda through to Hip Hop’s self relience roots.  

Alongside information media – the arts are the cornerstone of how cultures represent their own stories, experiences, hopes, fears and opinions.  The Community Media sector is missing a vital pivotal trick, if it doesn’t fully exploit all the tools it has on offer.  I shall be watching David Hockney’s new work with increasing interest.



 – Benjamin, W. (1936), ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ Penguin Books, London. Page 9.

– Caton-Rosser, M. S. (2006), ‘ Case studies of how community media enact media literacy and activism in the public sphere’. Online Thesis – – Page 14.

– Goldbard, A. (2006), ‘New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural development’. New Village Press. Oakland, CA. USA. Page 102

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